"One must confess that M. Rameau possesses very great talent, much fire and euphony, and a considerable knowledge of harmonious combinations and effects; one must also grant him the art of appropriating the ideas of others by changing their character, adorning and developing them, and turning them around in all manner of ways, On the other hand, he shows less facility in inventing new ones. Altogether he has more skill than fertility, more knowledge than genius, or rather genius smothered by knowledge, but always force, grace, and very often a beautiful cantileana. His recitative is not as natural but much more varied than that of Lulli; admirable in a few scenes, but bad as a rule." Rousseau continues to reproach Rameau with a too powerful instrumentation, compared with Italian simplicity, and sums up that nobody knew better than Rameau how to conceive the spirit of single passages and to produce artistic contrasts, but that he entirely failed to give his operas "a happy and much-to-be-desired unity." In another part of the quoted passage Rousseau says that Rameau stands far beneath Lulli in esprit and artistic tact, but that he is often superior to him in dramatic expression.
A clear understanding of the musical position of Rameau is necessary to fully appreciate the place of Gretry, his antithesis as a composer. For a short time the popularity of Rameau had been shaken by an Italian opera company, called by the French Les Bouffons, who had created a genuine sensation by their performance of airy and sparkling operettas, entirely removed in spirit from the ponderous productions of the prevailing school. Though the Italian comedians did not meet with permanent success, the suave charm of their music left behind it memories which became fruitful.*
* In its infancy Italian comic opera formed the intermezzo between the acts of a serious opera, and—similar to the Greek sylvan drama which followed the tragic trilogy—was frequently a parody on the piece which preceded it; though more frequently still (as in Pergolcsi's "Serra Padrona") it was not a satire on any particular subject, but designed to heighten the ideal artistic effect of the serious opera by broad comedy. Having acquired a complete form on the boards of the small theatres, it was transferred to the larger stage. Though it lacked the external splendor and consummate vocalization of the elder sister, its simpler forms endowed it with a more characteristic rendering of actual life.
It furnished the point of departure for the lively and facile genius of Gretry, who laid the foundation stones of that lyric comedywhich has flourished in France with so much luxuriance. From the outset merriment and humor were by no means the sole object of the French comic opera, as in the case of its Italian sister. Gretry did not neglect to turn the nobler emotions to account, and by a judicious admixture of sentiment he gave an ideal coloring to his works, which made them singularly fascinating and original. Around Gretry flourished several disciples and imitators, and for twenty years this charming hybrid between opera and vaudeville engrossed French musical talent, to the exclusion of other forms of composition. It was only when Gluck * appeared on the scene, and by his commanding genius restored serious opera to its supremacy, that Grotry's repute was overshadowed. From this decline in public favor he never fully recovered, for the master left behind him gifted disciples, who embodied his traditions, and were inspired by his lofty aims—preeminently so in the case of Cherubini, perhaps the greatest name in French music. While French comic opera, since the days of Gretry, has become modified in some of its forms, it preserves the spirit and coloring which he so happily imparted to it, and looks back to him as its founder and lawgiver.
*See article on "Gluck," in "The Great German Composers" (a companion volume to this), in which his connection with French music is discussed.
One of the most accomplished of historians and critics, Oulibischeff, sums up the place of Cherubini in musical art in these words: "If on the one hand Gluck's calm and plastic grandeur, and on the other the tender and voluptuous charm of the melodies of Piccini and Zacchini, had suited the circumstances of a state of society sunk in luxury and nourished with classical exhibitions, this could not satisfy a society shaken to the very foundations of its faith and organization. The whole of the dramatic music of the eighteenth century must naturally have appeared cold and languid to men whose minds were profoundly moved with troubles and wars; and even at the present day the word languor best expresses that which no longer touches us in the operas of the last century, without even excepting those of Mozart himself. What we require for the pictures of dramatic music is larger frames, including more figures, more passionate and moving song, more sharply marked rhythms, greater fullness in the vocal masses, and more sonorous brilliancy in the instrumentation. All these qualities are to be found in 'Lodoi'ska' and 'Les Deux Journees'; and Cherubini may not only be regarded as the founder of the modern French opera, but also as that musician who, after Mozart, has exerted the greatest general influence on the tendency of the art. An Italian by birth and the excellence of his education, which was conducted by Sarti, the great teacher of composition; a German by his musical sympathies as well as by the variety and profundity of his knowledge; and a Frenchman by the school and principles to which we owe his finest dramatic works, Cherubini strikes me as being the most accomplished musician, if not the greatest genius, of the nineteenth century."
Again the English composer Macfarren observes: "Cherubini's position is unique in the history of his art; actively before the world as a composer for threescore years and ten, his career spans over more vicissitudes in the progress of music than that of any other man. Beginning to write in the same year with Cimarosa, and even earlier than Mozart, and being the contemporary of Verdi and Wagner, he witnessed almost the origin of the two modern classical schools of France and Germany, their rise to perfection, and, if not their decline, the arrival of a time when criticism would usurp the place of creation, and when to propound new rules for art claims higher consideration than to act according to its ever unalterable principles. His artistic life indeed was a rainbow based on the two extremes of modern music which shed light and glory on the great art-cycle over which it arched.... His excellence consists in his unswerving earnestness of purpose, in the individuality of his manner, in the vigor of his ideas, and in the purity of his harmony."
"Such," says M. Miel, "was Cherubim; a colossal and incommensurable genius, an existence full of days, of masterpieces, and of glory. Among his rivals he found his most sincere appreciators. The Chevalier Seyfried has recorded, in a notice on Beethoven, that that grand musician regarded Cherubini as the first of his contemporary composers. We will add nothing to this praise: the judgment of such a rival is, for Cherubini, the voice itself of posterity."
Luigi Carlo Zanobe Salvadore Maria Cherubini was born at Florence on September 14, 1700, the son of a harpsichord accompanyist at the Pergola Theatre. Like so many other great composers, young Cherubini displayed signs of a fertile and powerful genius at an early age, mastering the difficulties of music as if by instinct. At the age of nine he was placed under the charge of Felici, one of the best Tuscan professors of the day; and four years afterward he composed his first work, a mass. His creative instinct, thus awakened, remained active, and he produced a series of compositions which awakened no little admiration, so that he was pointed at in the streets of Florence as the young prodigy. When he was about sixteen the attention of the Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany was directed to him, and through that prince's liberality he was enabled to become a pupil of the most celebrated Italian master of the age, Giuseppe Sarti, of whom he soon became the favorite pupil. Under the direction of Sarti, the young composer produced a series of operas, sonatas, and masses, and wrote much of the music which appeared under the maestro's own name—a practice then common in the music and painting schools of Italy. At the age of nineteen Cherubini was recognized as one of the most learned and accomplished musicians of the age, and his services were in active demand at the Italian theatres. In four years he produced thirteen operas, the names and character of which it is not necessary now to mention, as they are unknown except to the antiquary whose zeal prompts him to defy the dust of the Italian theatrical libraries. Halevy, whose admiration of his master led him to study these early compositions, speaks of them as full of striking beauties, and, though crude in many particulars, distinguished by those virile and daring conceptions which from the outset stamped the originality of the man.
Cherubini passed through Paris in 1784, while the Gluck-Piccini excitement was yet warm, and visited London as composer for the Royal Italian Opera. Here he became a constant visitor in courtly circles, and the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Queensbury, and other noble amateurs, conceived the warmest admiration for his character and abilities. For some reason, however, his operas written for England failed, and he quitted England in 1786, intending to return to Italy. But the fascinations of Paris held him, as they have done so many others, noticeably so among the great musicians; and what was designed as a flying visit became a life-long residence, with the exception of brief interruptions in Germany and Italy, whither he went to fill professional engagements.
Cherubini took up his residence with his friend Viotti, who introduced him to the Queen, Marie Antoinette, and the highest society of the capital, then as now the art-center of the world. He became an intimate of the brilliant salons of Mme. de Polignac, Mme. d'Etioles, Mme. de Richelieu, and of the various bright assemblies where the wit, rank, and beauty of Paris gathered in the days just prior to the Revolution. The poet Marmontel became his intimate friend, and gave him the opera story of "Demophon" to set to music. It was at this period that Cherubini became acquainted with the works of Haydn, and learned from him how to unite depth with lightness, grace with power, jest with earnestness, and toying with dignity.
A short visit to Italy for the carnival of 1788 resulted in the production of the opera of "Ifigenia in Aulide" at La Scala, Milan. The success was great, and this work, the last written for his native country, was given also at Florence and Parma with no less delight and approbation on the part of the public. Had Cherubini died at this time, he would have left nothing but an obscure name for Fetis's immense dictionary. Unlike Mozart and Schubert, who at the same age had reached their highest development, this robust and massive genius ripened slowly. With him as with Gluck, with whom he had so many affinities, a short life would have been fatal to renown. His last opera showed a turning point in his development. Halevy, his great disciple, speaks of this period as follows: "He is already more nervous; there peeps out I know not exactly how much of force and virility of which the Italian musicians of his day did not know or did not seek the secret. It is the dawn of a new day. Cherubini was preparing himself for the combat. Gluck had accustomed France to the sublime energy of his masterpieces. Mozart had just written 'Le Nozze di Figaro' and 'Don Giovanni.' He must not lag behind. He must not be conquered. In that career which he was about to dare to enter, he met two giants. Like the athlete who descends into the arena, he anointed his limbs and girded his loins for the fight."
Marmontel had furnished the libretto of an opera to Cherubini, and the composer shortly after his return from Turin to Paris had it produced at the Royal Academy of Music. Vogel's opera on the same text, "Demophon," was also brought out, but neither one met with great success. Cherubini's work, though full of vigor and force, wanted color and dramatic point. He was disgusted with his failure, and resolved to eschew dramatic music; so for the nonce he devoted himself to instrumental music and cantata. Two works of the latter class, "Amphion" and "Circe," composed at this time, were of such excellence as to retain a permanent hold on the French stage. Cherubini, too, became director of the Italian opera troupe, "Les Bouffons," organized under the patronage of Leonard, the Queen's performer, and exercised his taste for composition by interpolating airs of his own into the works of the Italian composers, which were then interesting the French public as against the operas of Rameau.
"At this time," we are told by Laf age, "Cherubini had two distinct styles, one of which was allied to Paisiello and Cimarosa by the grace, elegance, and purity of the melodic forms; the other, which attached itself to the school of Gluck and Mozart, more harmonic than melodious, rich in instrumental details." This manner was the then unappreciated type of a new school destined to change the forms of musical art.
In 1790 the Revolution broke out and rent the established order of things into fragments. For a time all the interests of art were swallowed up in the frightful turmoil which made Paris the center of attention for astonished and alarmed Europe. Cherubini's connection had been with the aristocracy, and now they were fleeing in a mad panic or mounting the scaffold. His livelihood became precarious, and he suffered severely during the first five years of anarchy. His seclusion was passed in studying music, the physical sciences, drawing, and botany; and his acquaintance was wisely confined to a few musicians like himself. Once, indeed, his having learned the violin as a child was the means of saving his life. Independently venturing out at night, he was arrested by a roving band of drunken Sansculottes, who were seeking musicians to conduct their street chants. Somebody recognized Cherubini as a favorite of court circles, and, when he refused to lead their obscene music, the fatal cry, "The Royalist, the Royalist!" buzzed through the crowd. At this critical moment another kidnapped player thrust a violin in Cherubini's hands and persuaded him to yield. So the two musicians marched all day amid the hoarse yells of the drunken revolutionists. He was also enrolled in the National Guard, and obliged to accompany daily the march of the unfortunate throngs who shed their blood under the axe of the guillotine. Cherubini would have fled from these horrible surroundings, but it was difficult to evade the vigilance of the French officials; he had no money; and he would not leave the beautiful Cecile Tourette, to whom he was affianced.
One of the theatres opened during the revolutionary epoch was the Theatre Feydeau. The second opera performed was Cherubini's "Lodoiska" (1791), at which he had been laboring for a long time, and which was received throughout Europe with the greatest enthusiasm and delight, not less in Germany than in France and Italy. The stirring times aroused a new taste in music, as well as in politics and literature. The dramas of Racine and the operas of Lulli were akin. No less did the stormy genius of Schiller find its counterpart in Beethoven and Cherubini. The production of "Lodoiska" was the point of departure from which the great French school of serious opera, which has given us "Robert le Diable," "Les Huguenots," and "Faust," got its primal value and significance. Two men of genius, Gluck and Gretry, had formed the taste of the public in being faithful to the accents of nature. The idea of reconciling this taste, founded on strict truth, with the seductive charm of the Italian forms, to which the French were beginning to be sensible, suggested to Cherubini a system of lyric drama capable of satisfying both. Wagner himself even says, in his "Tendencies and Theories," speaking of Cherubini and his great co-laborers Mehul and Spontini: "It would be difficult to answer them, if they now perchance came among us and asked in what respect we had improved on their mode of musical procedure."
"Lodoiska," which cast the old Italian operas into permanent oblivion, and laid the foundation of the modern French dramatic school in music, has a libretto similar to that of "Fidelio" and Gretry's "Coeur de Lion" combined, and was taken from a romance of Faiblas by Fillette Loraux. The critics found only one objection: the music was all so beautiful that no breathing time was granted the listener. In one year the opera was performed two hundred times, and at short intervals two hundred more representations took place.
The Revolution culminated in the crisis of 1793, which sent the King to the scaffold. Cherubini found a retreat at La Chartreuse, near Rouen, the country seat of his friend, the architect Louis. Here he lived in tranquillity, and composed several minor pieces and a three-act opera, never produced, but afterward worked over into "Ali Baba" and "Faniska." In his Norman retreat Cherubini heard of the death of his father, and while suffering under this infliction, just before his return to Paris in 1794, he composed the opera of "Elisa." This work wras received with much favor at the Feydeau theatre, though it did not arouse the admiration called out by "Lodoiska."
In 1795 the Paris Conservatory was founded, and Cherubini appointed one of the five inspectors, as well as professor of counterpoint, his associates being Lesueur, Gretry, Gossec, and Mehul. The same year also saw him united to Cecile Tourette, to whom he had been so long and devotedly attached. Absorbed in his duties at the Conservatory he did not come before the public again till 1797, when the great tragic masterpiece of "Medee" was produced at the Feydeau theatre. "Lodoiska" had been somewhat gay; "Elisa," a work of graver import, followed; but in "Medee" was attained the profound tragic power of Gluck and Beethoven. Hoffman's libretto was indeed unworthy of the great music, but this has not prevented its recognition by musicians as one of the noblest operas ever written. It has probably been one of the causes, however, why it is so rarely represented at the present time, its overture alone being well known to modern musical audiences. This opera has been compared by critics to Shakespeare's "King Lear," as being a great expression of anguish and despair in their more stormy phases. Chorley tells us that, when he first saw it, he was irresistibly reminded of the lines in Barry Cornwall's poem to Pasta:
"Now thou art like some winged thing that cries Above some city, flaming fast to death."
The poem which Chorley quotes from was inspired by the performance of the great Pasta in Simone Mayer's weak musical setting of the fable of the Colchian sorceress, which crowded the opera-houses of Europe. The life of the French classical tragedy, too, was powerfully assisted by Rachel. Though the poem on which Cherubini worked was unworthy of his genius, it could not be from this or from lack of interest in the theme alone that this great work is so rarely performed; it is because there have been not more than three or four actresses in the last hundred years combining the great tragic and vocal requirements exacted by the part. If the tragic genius of Pasta conld have been united with the voice of a Catalani, made as it were of adamant and gold, Cherubini's sublime musical creation would have found an adequate interpreter. Mdlle. Tietjens, indeed, has been the only late dramatic singer who dared essay so difficult a task. Musical students rank the instrumental parts of this opera with the organ music of Bach, the choral fugues of Handel, and the symphonies of Beethoven, for beauty of form and originality of ideas.
On its first representation, on the 13th of March, 1797, one of the journals, after praising its beauty, professed to discover imitations of Mehul's manner in it. The latter composer, in an indignant rejoinder, proclaimed himself and all others as overshadowed by Cherubini's genius: a singular example of artistic humility and justice. Three years after its performance in Paris, it was given at Berlin and Vienna, and stamped by the Germans as one of the world's great musical masterpieces. This work was a favorite one with Schubert, Beethoven, and Weber, and there have been few great composers who have not put on record their admiration of it.
As great, however, as "Medee" is ranked, "Les Deux Journees,"* produced in 1800, is the opera on which Cherubim's fame as a dramatic composer chiefly rests.
* In German known as "Die Wassertrager," in English "The Water-Carriers."
Three hundred consecutive performances did not satisfy Paris; and at Berlin and Frankfort, as well as in Italy, it was hailed with acclamation. Bouilly was the author of the opera-story, suggested by the generous action of a water-carrier toward a magistrate who was related to the author. The story is so interesting, so admirably written, that Goethe and Mendelssohn considered it the true model for a comic opera. The musical composition, too, is nearly faultless in form and replete with beauties. In this opera Cherubini anticipated the reforms of Wagner, for he dispensed with the old system which made the drama a web of beautiful melodies, and established his musical effects for the most part by the vigor and charm of the choruses and concerted pieces. It has been accepted as a model work by composers, and Beethoven was in the habit of keeping it by him on his writing-table for constant study and reference.
Spohr in his autobiography says: "I recollect, when the 'Deux Journees' was performed for the first time, how, intoxicated with delight and the powerful impression the work had made on me, I asked on that very evening to have the score given me, and sat over it the whole night; and that it was that opera chiefly that gave me my first impulse to composition." Weber, in a letter from Munich written in 1812, says: "Fancy my delight when I beheld lying upon the table of the hotel the play-bill with the magic name Armand. I was the first person in the theatre, and planted myself in the middle of the pit, where I waited most anxiously for the tones which I knew beforehand would elevate and inspire me. I think I may assert boldly that 'Les Deux Journees' is a really great dramatic and classical work. Everything is calculated so as to produce the greatest effect; all the various pieces are so much in their proper place that you can neither omit one nor make any addition to them. The opera displays a pleasing richness of melody, vigorous declamation, and all-striking truth in the treatment of situations, ever new, ever heard and retained with pleasure." Mendelssohn, too, writing to his father of a performance of this opera, speaks of the enthusiasm of the audience as extreme, as well as of his own pleasure as surpassing anything he had ever experienced in a theatre. Mendelssohn, who never completed an opera, because he did not find until shortly before his death a theme which properly inspired him to dramatic creation, corresponded with Planche, with the hope of getting from the latter a libretto which should unite the excellences of "Fidelio" with those of "Les Deux Journees." He found, at last, a libretto, which, if it did not wholly satisfy him, at least overcame some of his prejudices, in a story based on the Rhine myth of Lorelei. A fragment of it only was finished, and the finale of the first act is occasionally performed in England.
Before Napoleon became First Consul, he had been on familiar terms with Cherubini. The soldier and the composer were seated in the same box listening to an opera by the latter. Napoleon, whose tastes for music were for the suave and sensuous Italian style, turned to him and said: "My dear Cherubini, you are certainly an excellent musician; but really your music is so noisy and complicated that I can make nothing of it;" to which Cherubini replied: "My dear general, you are certainly an excellent soldier; but in regard to music you must excuse me if I don't think it necessary to adapt my music to your comprehension." This haughty reply was the beginning of an estrangement. Another illustration of Cherubini's sturdy pride and dignity was his rejoinder to Napoleon, when the latter was praising the works of the Italian composers, and covertly sneering at his own. "Citizen General," he replied, "occupy yourself with battles and victories, and allow me to treat according to my talent an art of which you are grossly ignorant." Even when Napoleon became Emperor, the proud composer never learned "to crook the pregnant hinges of his knee" to the man before whom Europe trembled.
On the 12th of December, 1800, a grand performance of "The Creation" took place at Paris. Napoleon on his way to it narrowly escaped being killed by an infernal machine. Cherubini was one of the deputation, representing the various corporations and societies of Paris, who waited on the First Consul to congratulate him upon his escape. Cherubini kept in the background, when the sarcasm, "I do not see Monsieur Cherubini," pronounced in the French way, as if to indicate that Cherubini was not worthy of being ranked with the Italian composers, brought him promptly forward. "Well," said Napoleon, "the French are in Italy." "Where would they not go," answered Cherubini, "led by such a hero as you?" This pleased the First Consul, who, however, soon got to the old musical quarrel. "I tell you I like Paisiello's music immensely; it is soft and tranquil. You have much talent, but there is too much accompaniment." Said Cherubini, "Citizen Consul, I conform myself to French taste."
"Your music," continued the other, "makes too much noise. Speak to me in that of Paisiello; that is what lulls me gently." "I understand," replied the composer; "you like music which doesn't stop you from thinking of state affairs." This witty rejoinder made the arrogant soldier frown, and the talk suddenly ceased.
As a result of this alienation Cherubini found himself persistently ignored and ill-treated by the First Consul. In spite of his having produced such great masterpieces, his income was very small, apart from his pay as Inspector of the Conservatory. The ill will of the ruler of France was a steady check to his preferment. When Napoleon established his consular chapel in 1802, he invited Paisiello from Naples to become director at a salary of 12,000 francs a year. It gave great umbrage to the Conservatory that its famous teachers should have been slighted for an Italian foreigner, and musical circles in Paris were shaken by petty contentions. Paisiello, however, found the public indifferent to his works, and soon wearied of a place where the admiration to which he had been accustomed no longer flattered his complacency. He resigned, and his position was offered to Mehul, who is said to have declined it because he regarded Cherubini as far more worthy of it, and to have accepted it only on condition that his friend could share the duties and emoluments with him. Cherubini, fretted and irritated by his condition, retired for a time from the pursuit of his art, and devoted himself to flowers. The opera of "Anacreon," a powerful but unequal work, which reflected the disturbance and agitation of his mind, was the sole fruit of his musical efforts for about four years.
While Cherubini was in the deepest depression—for he had a large family depending on him and small means with which to support them—a ray of sunshine came in 1805 in the shape of an invitation to compose for the managers of the opera at Vienna. His advent at the Austrian capital produced a profound sensation, and he received a right royal welcome from the great musicians of Germany. The aged Haydn, Hummel, and Beethoven became his warm friends with the generous freemasonry of genius, for his rank as a musician was recognized throughout Europe.
The war which broke out after our musician's departure from Paris between France and Austria ended shortly in the capitulation of Ulm, and the French Emperor took up his residence at Schonbrunn. Napoleon received Cherubini kindly when he came in answer to his summons, and it was arranged that a series of twelve concerts should be given alternately at Schonbrunn and Vienna. The pettiness which entered into the French Emperor's nature in spite of his greatness continued to be shown in his ebullitions of wrath because Cherubini persisted in holding his own musical views against the imperial opinion. Napoleon, however, on the eve of his return to France, urged him to accompany him, offering the long-coveted position of musical director; but Cherubini was under contract to remain a certain length of time at Vienna, and he would not break his pledge.
The winter of 1805 witnessed two remarkable musical events at the Austrian capital, the production of Beethoven's "Fidelio" and the last great opera written by Cherubini, "Faniska." Haydn and Beethoven were both present at the latter performance. The former embraced Cherubini and said to him, "You are my son, worthy of my love." Beethoven cordially hailed him as "the first dramatic composer of the age." It is an interesting fact that two such important dramatic compositions should have been written at the same time, independently of each other; that both works should have been in advance of their age; that they should have displayed a striking similarity of style; and that both should have suffered from the reproach of the music being too learned for the public. The opera of "Faniska" is based on a Polish legend of great dramatic beauty, which, however, was not very artistically treated by the librettist. Mendelssohn in after years noted the striking resemblance between Beethoven and our composer in the conception and method of dramatic composition. In one of his letters to Edouard Devrient he says, speaking of "Fidelio": "On looking into the score, as well as on listening to the performance, I everywhere perceive Cherubim's dramatic style of composition. It is true that Beethoven did not ape that style, but it was before his mind as his most cherished pattern." The unity of idea and musical color between "Faniska" and "Fidelio" seems to have been noted by many critics both of contemporary and succeeding times.
Cherubini would gladly have written more for the Viennese, by whom he had been so cordially treated; but the unsettled times and his homesickness for Paris conspired to take him back to the city of his adoption. He exhausted many efforts to find Mozart's tomb in Vienna, and desired to place a monument over his neglected remains, but failed to locate the resting-place of one he loved so much. Haydn, Beethoven, Hummel, Salieri, and the other leading composers reluctantly parted with him, and on April 1, 1806, his return to Paris was celebrated by a brilliant fete improvised for him at the Conservatory. Fate, however, had not done with her persecutions, for fate in France took the shape of Napoleon, whose hostility, easily aroused, was implacable; who aspired to rule the arts and letters as he did armies and state policy; who spared neither Cherubini nor Madame de Stael. Cherubini was neglected and insulted by authority, while honors were showered on Mehul, Gretry, Spontini, and Lesueur. He sank into a state of profound depression, and it was even reported in Vienna that he was dead. He forsook music and devoted himself to drawing and botany. Had he not been a great musician, it is probable he would have excelled in pictorial art. One day the great painter David entered the room where he was working in crayon on a landscape of the Salvator Rosa style. So pleased was the painter that he cried, "Truly admirable! Courage!" In 1808 Cherubini found complete rest in a visit to the country-seat of the Prince de Chimay in Belgium, whither he was accompanied by his friend and pupil Auber.
With this period Cherubini closed his career practically as an operatic composer, though several dramatic works were produced subsequently, and entered on his no less great sphere of ecclesiastical composition. At Chimay for a while no one dared to mention music in his presence. Drawing and painting flowers seemed to be his sole pleasure. At last the president of the little music society at Chimay ventured to ask him to write a mass for St. Cecilia's feast day. He curtly refused, but his hostess noticed that he was agitated by the incident,'as if his slumbering instincts had started again into life. One day the Princess placed music paper on his table, and Cherubini on returning from his walk instantly began to compose, as if he had never ceased it. It is recorded that he traced out in full score the "Kyrie" of his great mass in F during the intermission of a single game of billiards. Only a portion of the mass was completed in time for the festival, but, on Cherubini's return to Paris in 1809, it was publicly given by an admirable orchestra, and hailed with a great enthusiasm, that soon swept through Europe. It was perceived that Cherubini had struck out for himself a new path in church music. Fetis, the musical historian, records its reception as follows: "All expressed an unreserved admiration for this composition of a new order, whereby Cherubini has placed himself above all musicians who have as yet written in the concerted style of church music. Superior to the masses of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and the masters of the Neapolitan school, that of Cherubini is as remarkable for originality of idea as for perfection in art." Picchiante, a distinguished critic, sums up the impressions made by this great work in the following eloquent and vigorous passage: "All the musical science of the good age of religious music, the sixteenth century of the Christian era, was summed up in Palestrina, who flourished at that time, and by its aid he put into form noble and sublime conceptions. With the grave Gregorian melody, learnedly elaborated in vigorous counterpoint and reduced to greater clearness and elegance without instrumental aid, Palestrina knew how to awaken among his hearers mysterious, grand, deep, vague sensations, that seemed caused by the objects of an unknown world, or by superior powers in the human imagination. With the same profound thoughtfulness of the old Catholic music, enriched by the perfection which art has attained in two centuries, and with all the means which a composer nowadays can make use of, Cherubini perfected another conception, and this consisted in utilizing the style adapted to dramatic composition when narrating the church text, by which means he was able to succeed in depicting man in his various vicissitudes, now rising to the praises of Divinity, now gazing on the Supreme Power, now suppliant and prostrate. So that, while Palestrina's music places God before man, that of Cherubini places man before God." Adolphe Adam puts the comparison more epigrammatically in saying: "If Palestrina had lived in our own times, he would have been Cherubini." The masters of the old Roman school of church music had received it as an emanation of pure sentiment, with no tinge of human warmth and color. Cherubini, on the contrary, aimed to make his music express the dramatic passion of the words, and in the realization of this he brought to bear all the resources of a musical science unequaled except perhaps by Beethoven. The noble masses in F and D were also written in 1809 and stamped themselves on public judgment as no less powerful works of genius and knowledge.
Some of Cherubini's friends in 1809 tried to reconcile the composer with the Emperor, and in furtherance of this an opera was written anonymously, "Pimmalione." Napoleon was delighted, and even affected to tears. Instantly, however, that Cherubini's name was uttered, he became dumb and cold. Nevertheless, as if ashamed of his injustice, he sent Cherubini a large sum of money, and a commission to write the music for his marriage ode. Several fine works followed in the next two years, among them the Mass in D, regarded by some of his admirers as his ecclesiastical masterpiece. Miel claims that in largeness of design and complication of detail, sublimity of conception and dramatic intensity, two works only of its class approach it, Beethoven's Mass in D and Niedermeyer's Mass in D minor.
In 1811 Halevy, the future author of "La Juive," became Cherubini's pupil, and a devoted friendship ever continued between the two. The opera of "Les Abencerages" was also produced, and it was pronounced nowise inferior to "Medee" and "Les Deux Journees." Mendelssohn many years afterward, writing to Moscheles in Paris, asked: "Has Onslow written anything new? And old Cherubini? There's a matchless fellow! I have got his 'Abencerages,' and can not sufficiently admire the sparkling fire, the clear original phrasing, the extraordinary delicacy and refinement with which it is written, or feel grateful enough to the grand old man for it. Besides, it is all so free and bold and spirited." The work would have had a greater immediate success, had not Paris been in profound gloom from the disastrous results of the Moscow campaign and the horrors of the French retreat, where famine and disease finished the work of bayonet and cannon-ball.
The unsettled and disheartening times disturbed all the relations of artists. There is but little record of Cherubini for several years. A significant passage in a letter written in 1814, speaking of several military marches written for a Prussian band, indicates the occupation of Paris by the allies and Napoleon's banishment in Elba. The period of "The Hundred Days" was spent by Cherubini in England; and the world's wonder, the battle of Waterloo, was fought, and the Bourbons were permanently restored, before he again set foot in Paris. The restored dynasty delighted to honor the man whom Napoleon had slighted, and gifts were showered on him alike by the Court and by the leading academies of Europe. The walls of his studio were covered with medals and diplomas; and his appointment as director of the King's chapel (which, however, he refused unless shared with Lesueur, the old incumbent) placed him above the daily demands of want. So, at the age of fifty-five, this great composer for the first time ceased to be anxious on the score of his livelihood. Thenceforward the life of Cherubini was destined to flow with a placid current, its chief incidents being the great works in church music, which he poured forth year after year, to the admiration and delight of the artistic world. These remarkable masses, by their dramatic power, greatness of design, and wealth of instrumentation, excited as much discussion and interest throughout Europe as the operas of other composers. That written in 1816, the C minor requiem mass, is pronounced by Berlioz to be the greatest work of this description ever composed.
We get some pleasant glimpses of Cherubini as a man during this serene autumn of his life. Spohr tells us how cordially Cherubini, generally regarded as an austere and irritable man, received him. The world-renowned master, accustomed to handle instruments in great orchestral masses, was not familiar with the smaller compositions known as chamber music, in which the Germans so excelled. He was greatly delighted when the youthful Spohr turned his attention to this form of music, and he insisted on the latter directing little concerts over and over again at his house.
In 1821 Moscheles writes in his diary, apropos of Cherubini and his artistic surroundings: "I spent the evening at Ciceri's, son in-law of Isabey, the famous painter, where I was introduced to one of the most interesting circles of artists. In the first room were assembled the most famous painters, engaged in drawing several things for their own amusement. In the midst of these was Cherubim, also drawing. I had the honor, like every one newly introduced, of having my portrait taken in caricature. Begasse took me in hand and succeeded well. In an adjoining room were musicians and actors, among them Ponchard, Levasseur, Dugazon, Panseron, Mlle, de Munck, and Mme. Livere, of the Theatre Francais. The most interesting of their performances, which I attended merely as a listener, was a vocal quartet by Cherubini, performed under his direction. Later in the evening, the whole party armed itself with larger or smaller 'mirlitons' (reed-pipe whistles), and on these small monotonous instruments, sometimes made of sugar, they played, after the fashion of Russian horn music, the overture to 'Demophon,' two frying-pans representing the drums." On the 27th of March this "mirliton" concert was repeated at Ciceri's, and on this occasion Cherubini took an active part. Moscheles relates of that evening: "Horace Vernet entertained us with his ventriloquizing powers, M. Salmon with his imitation of a horn, and Dugazon actually with a mirliton solo. Lafont and I represented the classical music, which, after all, held its own."
The distinguished pianist, in further pleasant gossip about Cherubini, tells us of hearing the first performance of a pasticcio opera, composed by Cherubini, Paer, Berton, Boieldieu, and Kreutzer, in honor of the christening of the Duke of Bordeaux. Of the part written by Cherubini he speaks in the warmest praise, and says quizzically of the composer: "His squeaky sharp little voice was sometimes heard in the midst of his conducting, and interrupted my state of ecstasy caused by his presence and composition."
In 1822 Cherubini became Director of the reestablished Conservatory, that institution having fallen into some decay, and displayed great administrative power and grasp of detail in bringing order out of chaos. His vigilance and experience, seconded by an able staff of professors, including the foremost musical names of France, soon made the Conservatory what it has since re? mained, the greatest musical college of the world. He was incessant in the performance of his duties, and spared neither himself nor his staff of professors to build up the institution. His spirit communicated itself both to masters and pupils. Ten o'clock every morning saw him at his office, and interviews even with the great were timed watch in hand. This law of order even prompted him to rebuke the Minister of Fine Arts severely when one day that functionary met an appointment tardily. Fetis tells us: "To his new functions he brought the most scrupulous exactitude of duty, that spirit of order which he possessed during the whole of his life, and an entire devotion to the prosperity of the establishment. Severe and exacting toward the professors and servants as he was with himself, he brought with him little love in his connections with the artists placed under his authority." His official duties finished, this incessant worker occupied his time with original composition, or copying out the scores of other composers from memory.
Though habitually cold and severe in his manner during these latter years, there was a spring of playful tenderness beneath. One day a child of great talent was brought by his father, a poor man, to see Cherubini. The latter's first exclamation was: "This is not a nursing hospital for infants." Relenting somewhat, he questioned the boy, and soon discovered his remarkable talents. The same old man was charmed and caressed the youngster, saying, "Bravo, my little friend! But why are you here, and what can I do for you?" "A thing that is very easy, and which would make me very happy," was the reply; "put me into the Conservatory." "It's a thing done," said Cherubini; "you are one of us." He afterward said to his friends playfully: "I had to be careful about pushing the questions too far, for the baby was beginning to prove that he knew more about music than I did myself."
His merciless criticism of his pupils did not surpass his own modesty and diffidence. One day, when a symphony of Beethoven was about to be played at a concert, just prior to one of his own works, he said, "Now I am going to appear as a very small boy indeed." The mutual affection of Cherubini and Beethoven remained unabated through life, as is shown by the touching letter written by the latter just before his death, but which Cherubini did not receive till after that event. The letter was as follows:
Vienna, March 15,1823.
Highly esteemed Sir: I joyfully take advantage of this opportunity to address you.
I have done so often in spirit, as I prize your theatrical works beyond others. The artistic world has only to lament that in Germany, at least, no new dramatic work of yours has appeared. Highly as all your works are valued by true connoisseurs, still it is a great loss to art not to possess any fresh production of your great genius for the theatre.
True art is imperishable, and the true artist feels heartfelt pleasure in grand works of genius, and that id what enchants me when I hear a new composition of yours; in fact, I take greater interest in it than in my own; in short, I love and honor you. Were it not that my continued bad health stops my coming to see you in Paris, with what exceeding delight would I discuss questions of art with you! Do not think that this is meant merely to serve as an introduction to the favor I am about to ask of you. I hope and feel sure that you do not for a moment suspect me of such base sentiments. I recently completed a grand solemn Mass, and have resolved to offer it to the various European courts, as it is not my intention to publish it at present. I have therefore asked the King of France, through the French embassy here, to subscribe to this work, and I feel certain that his Majesty would at your recommendation agree to do so.
My critical situation demands that I should not solely fix my eyes upon heaven, as is my wont; on the contrary, it would have me fix them also upon earth, here below, for the necessities of life.
Whatever may be the fate of my request to you, I shall for ever continue to love and esteem you; and you for ever remain of all my contemporaries that one whom I esteem the most.
If you should wish to do me a very great favor, you would effect this by writing to me a few lines, which would solace me much. Art unites all; how much more, then, true artists! and perhaps you may deem me worthy of being included in that number.
With the highest esteem, your friend and servant,
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN.
Cherubini's admiration of the great German is indicated in an anecdote told by Professor Ella. The master rebuked a pupil who, in referring to a performance of a Beethoven symphony, dwelt mostly on the executive excellence: "Young man, let your sympathies be first wedded to the creation, and be you less fastidious of the execution; accept the interpretation, and think more of the creation of these musical works which are written for all time and all nations, models for imitation and above all criticism."
As a man Cherubini presented himself in many different aspects. Extremely nervous, brusque, irritable, and absolutely independent, he was apt to offend and repel. But under his stern reserve of character there beat a warm heart and generous sympathies. This is shown by the fact that, in spite of the unevenness of his temper, he was almost worshiped by those around him. Auber, Halevy, Berton, Boieldieu, Mehul, Spontini, and Adam, who were so intimately associated with him, speak of him with words of the warmest affection. Halevy, indeed, rarely alluded to him without tears rushing to his eyes; and the slightest term of disrespect excited his warmest indignation. It is recorded that, after rebuking a pupil with sarcastic severity, his fine face would relax with a smile so affectionate and genial that his whilom victim could feel nothing but enthusiastic respect. Without one taint of envy in his nature, conscious of his own extraordinary powers, he was quick to recognize genius in others; and his hearty praise of the powers of his rivals shows how sound and generous the heart was under his irritability. His proneness to satire and power of epigram made him enemies, but even these yielded to the suavity and fascination which alternated with his bitter moods. His sympathies were peculiarly open for young musicians. Mendelssohn and Liszt were stimulated by his warm and encouraging praise when they first visited Paris; and even Berlioz, whose turbulent conduct in the Conservatory had so embittered him at various times, was heartily applauded when his first great mass was produced. Arnold gives us the following pleasant picture of Cherubini:
"Cherubini in society was outwardly silent, modest, unassuming, pleasing, obliging, and possessed of the finest manners. At the same time, he who did not know that he was with Cherubini would think him stern and reserved, so well did the composer know how to conceal everything, if only to avoid ostentation. He truly shunned brag or speaking of himself. Cherubini's voice was feeble, probably from narrow-chestedness, and somewhat hoarse, but was otherwise soft and agreeable. His French was Italianized.... His head was bent forward, his nose was large and aquiline; his eyebrows were thick, black, and somewhat bushy, overshadowing his eyes. His eyes were dark, and glittered with an extraordinary brilliancy that animated in a wonderful way the whole face. A thin lock of hair came over the center of his forehead, and somehow gave to his countenance a peculiar softness."
The picture painted by Ingres, the great artist, now in the Luxembourg gallery, represents the composer with Polyhymnia in the background stretching out her hand over him. His face, framed in waving silvery hair, is full of majesty and brightness, and the eye of piercing luster. Cherubini was so gratified by this effort of the painter that he sent him a beautiful canon set to wrords of his own. Thus his latter years were spent in the society of the great artists and wits of Paris, revered by all, and recognized, after Beethoven's death, as the musical giant of Europe. Rossini, Meyerbeer, Weber, Schumann—in a word, the representatives of the most diverse schools of composition—bowed equally before this great name. Rossini, who was his antipodes in genius and method, felt his loss bitterly, and after his death sent Cherubini's portrait to his widow with these touching words: "Here, my dear madam, is the portrait of a great man, who is as young in your heart as he is in my mind."
Actively engaged as Director of the Conservatory, which he governed with consummate ability, his old age was further employed in producing that series of great masses which rank with the symphonies of Beethoven. His creative instinct and the fire of his imagination remained unimpaired to the time of his death. Mendelssohn in a letter to Moscheles speaks of him as "that truly wonderful old man, whose genius seems bathed in immortal youth." His opera of "Ali Baba," composed at seventy-six, though inferior to his other dramatic works, is full of beautiful and original music, and was immediately produced in several of the principal capitals of Europe; and the second Requiem mass, written in his eightieth year, is one of his masterpieces.
On the 12th of March, 1842, the old composer died, surrounded by his affectionate family and friends. His fatal illness had been brought on in part by grief for the death of his son-in-law, M. Tureas, to whom he was most tenderly attached. His funeral was one of great military and civic magnificence, and royalty itself could not have been honored with more splendid obsequies. The congregation of men great in arms and state, in music, painting, and literature, who did honor to the occasion, has rarely been equaled. His own noble Requiem mass, composed the year before his death, was given at the funeral services in the church of St. Roch by the finest orchestra and voices in Europe. Similar services were held throughout Europe, and everywhere the opera-houses were draped in black. Perhaps the death of no musician ever called forth such universal exhibitions of sorrow and reverence.
Cherubini's life extended from the early part of the reign of Louis XVI. to that of Louis Philippe, and was contemporaneous with many of the most remarkable events in modern history. The energy and passion which convulsed society during his youth and early manhood undoubtedly had much to do in stimulating that robust and virile quality in his mind which gave such character to his compositions. The fecundity of his intellect is shown in the fact that he produced four hundred and thirty works, out of which only eighty have been published. In this catalogue there are twenty-five operas and eleven masses.
As an operatic composer he laid the foundation of the modern French school. Uniting the melody of the Italian with the science of the German, his conceptions had a dramatic fire and passion which were, however, free from anything appertaining to the sensational and meretricious. His forms were indeed classically severe, and his style is defined by Adolphe Adam as the resurrection of the old Italian school, enriched by the discoveries of modern harmony. Though he was the creator of French opera as we know it now, he was free from its vagaries and extravagances. He set its model in the dramatic vigor and picturesqueness, the clean-cut forms, and the noble instrumentation which mark such masterpieces as "Faniska," "Aledee," "Les Deux Journees," and "Lodoiska." The purity, classicism, and wealth of ideas in these works have always caused them to be cited as standards of ideal excellence. The reforms in opera of which Gluck was the protagonist, and Wagner the extreme modern exponent, characterize the dramatic works of Cherubini, though he keeps them within that artistic limit which a proper regard for melodic beauty prescribes. In the power and propriety of musical declamation his operas are conceded to be without a superior. His overtures hold their place in classical music as ranking with the best ever written, and show a richness of resource and knowledge of form in treating the orchestra which his his contemporaries admitted were only equaled by Beethoven.
Cherubini's place in ecclesiastical music is that by which he is best known to the musical public of to-day; for his operas, owing to the immense demands they make on the dramatic and vocal resources of the artist, are but rarely presented in France, Germany, and England, and never in America. They are only given where music is loved on account of its noble traditions, and not for the mere sake of idle and luxurious amusement. As a composer of masses, however, Cherubini's genius is familiar to all who frequent the services of the Roman Church. His relation to the music of Catholicism accords with that of Sebastian Bach to the music of Protestantism. Haydn, Mozart, and even Beethoven, are held by the best critics to be his inferiors in this form of composition. His richness of melody, sense of dramatic color, and great command of orchestral effects, gave him commanding power in the interpretation of religious sentiments; while an ardent faith inspired with passion, sweetness, and devotion what Place styles his "sublime visions." Miel, one of his most competent critics, writes of him in this eloquent strain: "If he represents the passion and death of Christ, the heart feels itself wounded with the most sublime emotion; and when he recounts the 'Last Judgment' the blood freezes with dread at the redoubled and menacing calls of the exterminating angel. All those admirable pictures that the Raphaels and Michael Angelos have painted with colors and the brush, Cherubini brings forth with the voice and orchestra." In brief, if Cherubini is the founder of a later school of opera, and the model which his successors have always honored and studied if they have not always followed, no less is he the chief of a later, and by common consent the greatest, school of modern church music.
MEHUL, SPONTINI, AND HALEVY.
The influence of Gluck was not confined to Cherubini, but was hardly less manifest in molding the style and conceptions of Mehul and Spontini,* who held prominent places in the history of the French opera.
* It is a little singular that some of the most distinguished names in the annals of French music were foreigners. Thus Gluck was a German, as also was Meyerbeer, while Cherubini and Spontini were Italians.
Henri Etienne Mehul was the son of a French soldier stationed at the Givet barracks, where he was born June 24, 1763. His early love of music secured for him instructions from the blind organist of the Franciscan church at that garrison town, under whom he made astonishing progress. He soon found he had outstripped the attainments of his teacher, and contrived to place himself under the tuition of the celebrated Wilhelm Hemser, who was organist at a neighboring monastery. Here Mehul spent a number of happy and useful years, studying composition with Hemser and literature with the kind monks, who hoped to persuade their young charge to devote himself to ecclesiastical life.
Mehul's advent in Paris, whither he went at the age of sixteen, soon opened his eyes to his true vocation, that of a dramatic composer. The excitement over the contest between Gluck and Piccini was then at its height, and the youthful musician was not long in espousing the side of Gluck with enthusiasm. He made the acquaintance of Gluck accidentally, the great ehevalier interposing one night to prevent his being ejected from the theatre, into one of whose boxes Mehul had slipped without buying a ticket. Thence forward the youth had free access to the opera, and the friendship and tuition of one of the master minds of the age.
An opera, "Cora et Alonzo," had been composed at the age of twenty and accepted at the opera; but it was not till 1790 that he got a hearing in the comic opera of "Euphrasque et Coradin," composed under the direction of Gluck. This work was brilliantly successful, and "Stratonice," which anpeared two years afterward, established his reputation. The French critics describe both these early works as being equally admirable in melody, orchestral accompaniment, and dramatic effect. The stormiest year of the revolution was not favorable to operatic composition, and Mehul wrote but little music except pieces for republican festivities, much to his own disgust, for he was by no means a warm friend of the republic.
In 1797 he produced his "Le Jeune Henri," which nearly caused a riot in the theatre. The story displeased the republican audience, who hissed and hooted till the turmoil compelled the fall of the curtain. They insisted, however, on the overture, which is one of great beauty, being performed over and over again, a compliment which has rarely been accorded to any composer. Mehul's appointment as inspector and professor in the newly organized Conservatory, at the same time with Cherubini, left him but little leisure for musical composition; but he found time to write the spectacular opera "Adrian," which was fiercely condemned by a republican audience, not as a musical failure, but because their alert and suspicious tempers suspected in it covert allusions to the dead monarchy. Even David, the painter, said he would set the torch to the opera-house rather than witness the triumph of a king. In 1806 Mehul produced the opera "Uthal," a work of striking vigor founded on an Ossianic theme, in which he made the innovation of banishing the violins from the orchestra, substituting therefor the violas.
It was in "Joseph," however, composed in 1807, that this composer vindicated his right to be called a musician of great genius, and entered fully into a species of composition befitting his grand style. Most of his contemporaries were incapable of appreciating the greatness of the work, though his gifted rival Cherubini gave it the warmest praise. In Germany it met with instant and extended success, and it is one of the few French operas of the old school which still continue to be given on the German stage. In England it is now frequently sung as an oratorio. It is on this remarkable work that Mehul's lasting reputation as a composer rests outside of his own nation. The construction of the opera of "Joseph" is characterized by admirable symmetry of form, dramatic power, and majesty of the choral and concerted passages, while the sustained beauty of the orchestration is such as to challenge comparison with the greatest works of his contemporaries. Such at least is the verdict of Fetis, who was by no means inclined to be over-indulgent in criticising Mehul. The fault in this opera, as in all of Mehul's works, appears to have been a lack of bright and graceful melody, though in the modern tendencies of music this defect is rapidly being elevated into a virtue.
The last eight years of Mehul's life were depressed by melancholy and suffering, proceeding from pulmonary disease. He resigned his place in the Conservatory, and retired to a pleasant little estate near Paris, where he devoted himself to raising flowers, and found some solace in the society of his musical friends and former pupils, who were assiduous in their attentions. Finally becoming dangerously ill, he went to the island of Hyeres to find a more genial climate. But here he pined for Paris and the old companionships, and suffered more perhaps by fretting for the intellectual cheer of his old life than he gained by balmy air and sunshine. He writes to one of his friends after a short stay at Hyeres: "I have broken up all my habits; I am deprived of all my old friends; I am alone at the end of the world, surrounded by people whose language I scarcely understand; and all this sacrifice to obtain a little more sun. The air which best agrees with me is that which I breathe among you." He returned to Paris for a few weeks only, to breathe his last on October 18, 1817, aged fifty-four.
Mehul was a high-minded and benevolent man, wrapped up in his art, and singularly childlike in the practical affairs of life. Abhorring intrigue, he was above all petty jealousies, and even sacrificed the situation of chapel-master under Napoleon, because he believed it should have been given to the greatest of his rivals, Cherubini. When he died Paris recognized his goodness as a man as well as greatness as a musician by a touching and spontaneous expression of grief, and funeral honors were given him throughout Europe. In 1822 his statue was crowned on the stage of the Grand Opera, at a performance of his "Valentine de Rohan." Notwithstanding his early death, he composed forty-two operas, and modern musicians and critics give him a notable place among those who were prominent in building up a national stage. A pupil and disciple of Gluck, a cordial co-worker with Cherubini, he contributed largely to the glory of French music, not only by his genius as a composer, but by his important labors in the reorganization of the Conservatory, that nursery which has fed so much of the highest musical talent of the world.
Luigi Gaspardo Pacifico Spontini, born of peasant parents at Majolati, Italy, November 14, 1774, displayed his musical passion at an early age. Designed for holy orders from childhood, his priestly tutors could not make him study; but he delighted in the service of the church, with its or^an and choir effects, for here his true vocation asserted itself. He was wont, too, to hide in the belfry, and revel in the roaring orchestra of metal, when the chimes were rung. On one occasion a stroke of lightning precipitated him from his dangerous perch to the floor below, and the history of music nearly lost one of its great lights. The bias of his nature was intractable, and he was at last permitted to study music, at first under the charge of his uncle Joseph, the cure of Jesi, and finally at the Naples Conservatory, where he was entered at the age of sixteen.
His first opera, "I Puntigli delle Donne," was composed at the age of twenty-one, and performed at Rome, where it was kindly received. The French invasion unsettled the affairs of Italy, and Spontini wandered somewhat aimlessly, unable to exercise his talents to advantage till he went to Paris in 1803, where he found a large number of brother Italian musicians, and a cordial reception, though himself an obscure and untried youth. He produced several minor works on the French stage, noticeably among them the one-act opera of "Milton," in which he stepped boldly out of his Italian mannerism, and entered on that path afterward pursued with such brilliancy and boldness. Yet, though his talents began to be recognized, life was a trying struggle, and it is doubtful if he could have overcome the difficulties in his way when he was ready to produce "La Vestale," had he not enlisted the sympathies of the Empress Josephine, who loved music, and played the part of patroness as gracefully as she did all others.
By Napoleon's order "La Vestale" was rehearsed against the wish of the manager and critics of the Academy of Music, and produced December 15, 1807. Previous to this some parts of it had been performed privately at the Tuileries, and the Emperor had said: "M. Spontini, your opera abounds in fine airs and effective duets. The march to the place of execution is admirable. You will certainly have the great success you so well deserve." The imperial prediction was justified by consecutive performances of one hundred nights. His next work, "Fernand Cortez," sustained the impression of genius earned for him by its predecessor. The scene of the revolt is pronounced by competent critics to be one of the finest dramatic conceptions in operatic music.
In 1809 Spontini married the niece of Erard, the great pianoforte-maker, and was called to the direction of the Italian opera; but he retained this position only two years, from the disagreeable conditions he had to contend with, and the cabals that were formed against him. The year 1814 witnessed the production of "Pelage," and two years later "Les Dieux Rivaux" was composed, in conjunction with Persuis, Berton, and Kreutzer; but neither work attracted much attention. The opera of "Olympic," worked out on the plan of "La Vestale" and "Cortez," was produced in 1819. Spontini was embittered by its poor success, for he had built many hopes on it, and wrought long and patiently. That he was not in his best vein, and like many other men of genius was not always able to estimate justly his own work, is undeniable; for Spontini, contrary to the opinion of his contemporaries and of posterity, regarded this as his best opera. His acceptance of the Prussian King's offer to become musical director at Berlin was the result of his chagrin. Here he remained for twenty years. "Olympic" succeeded better at Berlin, though the boisterousness of the music seems to have called out some sharp strictures even among the Berlinese, whose penchant for noisy operatic effects was then as now a butt for the satire of the musical wits. Apropos of the long run of "Olympic" at Berlin, an amusing anecdote is told on the authority of Castel-Blaze. A wealthy amateur had become deaf, and suffered much from his deprivation of the enjoyment of his favorite art. After trying many physicians, he was treated in a novel fashion by his latest doctor. "Come with me to the opera this evening," wrote down the doctor. "What's the use? I can't hear a note," was the impatient rejoinder. "Never mind," said the other; "come, and you will see something at all events." So the twain repaired to the theatre to hear Spontini's "Olympie." All went well till one of the overwhelming finales, which happened to be played that evening more fortissimo than usual. The patient turned around beaming with delight, exclaiming, "Doctor, I can hear." As there was no reply, the happy patient again said, "Doctor, I tell you, you have cured me." A blank stare alone met him, and he found that the doctor was as deaf as a post, having fallen a victim to his own prescription. The German wits had a similar joke afterward at Halevy's expense. The "Punch" of Vienna said that Halevy made the brass play so loudly that the French horn was actually blown quite straight.
Among the works produced at Berlin were "Nurmahal," in 1825; "Alcidor," the same year; and in 1829, "Agnes von Hohenstaufen." Various other new works were given from time to time, but none achieved more than a brief hearing. Spontini's stiff-necked and arrogant will kept him in continual trouble, and the Berlin press aimed its arrows at him with incessant virulence: a war which the composer fed by his bitter and witty rejoinders, for he was an adept in the art of invective. Had he not been singularly adroit, he would have been obliged to leave his post. But he gloried in the disturbance he created, and was proof against the assaults of his numerous enemies, made so largely by his having come of the French school, then as now an all-sufficient cause of Teutonic dislike. Spontini's unbending intolerance, however, at last undermined his musical supremacy, so long held good with an iron hand; and an intrigue headed by Count Bruehl, intendant of the Royal Theatre, at last obliged him to resign after a rule of a score of years. His influence on the lyric theatre of Berlin, however, had been valuable, and he had the glory of forming singers among the Prussians, who until his time had thought more of cornet-playing than of beautiful and true vocalization. The Prussian King allowed him on his departure a pension of 16,000 francs.
When Spontini returned to Paris, though he was appointed member of the Academy of Fine Arts, he was received with some coldness by the musical world. He had no little difficulty in getting a production of his operas; only the Conservatory remained faithful to him, and in their hall large audiences gathered to hear compositions to which the opera-house denied its stage. New idols attracted the public, and Spontini, though burdened with all the orders of Europe, was obliged to rest in the traditions of his earlier career. A passionate desire to see his native land before death made him leave Paris in 1850, and he went to Majolati, the town of his birth, where he died after a residence of a few months. His cradle was his tomb.
A well-known musical critic sums up his judgment of Halevy in these words: "If in France a contemporary of Louis XIV., an admirer of Racine, could return to us, and, full of the remembrance of his earthly career under that renowned monarch, he should wish to find the nobly pathetic, the elevated inspiration, the majestic arrangements of the olden times upon a modern stage, we would not take him to the Theatre Francais, but to the Opera on the day in which one of Halevy's works was given."
Unlike Mehul and Spontini, with whom in point of style and method Halevy must be associated, he was not in any direct sense a disciple of Gluck, but inherited the influence of the latter through his great successor Cherubini, of whom Halevy was the favorite pupil and the intimate friend. Fromental Halevy, a scion of the Hebrew race, which has furnished so many geniuses to the art world, left a deep impress on his times, not simply by his genius and musical knowledge, which was profound, varied, and accurate, but by the elevation and nobility which lifted his mark up to a higher level than that which we accord to mere musical gifts, be they ever so rich and fertile. The motive that inspired his life is suggested in his devout saying that music is an art that God has given us, in which the voices of all nations may unite their prayers in one harmonious rhythm.
Halevy was a native of Paris, born May 27, 1799. He entered the Conservatory at the age of eleven years, where he soon attracted the particular attention of Cherubini. When he was twenty the Institute awarded him the grand prize for the composition of a cantata; and he also received a government pension which enabled him to dwell at Rome for two years, assiduously cultivating his talents in composition. Halevy returned to Paris, but it was not till 1827 that he succeeded in having an opera produced. This portion of his life was full of disappointment and chilled ambitions; for, in spite of the warm friendship of Cherubini, who did everything to advance his interests, he seemed to make but slow progress in popular estimation, though a number of operas were produced.
Halevy's full recognition, however, was found in the great work of "La Juive," produced February 23, 1835, with lavish magnificence. It is said that the managers of the Opera expended 150,000 francs in putting it on the stage. This opera, which surpasses all his others in passion, strength, and dignity of treatment, was interpreted by the greatest singers in Europe, and the public reception at once assured the composer that his place in music was fixed. Many envious critics, however, declaimed against him, asserting that success was not the legitimate desert of the opera, but of its magnificent presentation. Halevy answered his detractors by giving the world a delightful comic opera, "L'Eclair," which at once testified to the genuineness of his musical inspiration and the versatility of his powers, and was received by the public with even more pleasure than "La Juive."
Halevy's next brilliant stroke (three unsuccessful works in the mean while having been written) was "La Reine de Chypre," produced in 1841. A somewhat singular fact occurred during the performance of this opera. One of the singers, every time he came to the passage,
Ce mortel qu'on remarque Tient-il Plus que nous de la Parque Le fil?
was in the habit of fixing his eyes on a certain proscenium box wherein were wont to sit certain notabilities in politics and finance. As several of these died during the first run of the work, superstitious people thought the box was bewitched, and no one cared to occupy it. Two fine works, "Charles VI." and "Le Val d'Andorre," succeeded at intervals of a few years; and in 1849 the noble music to AEschylus's "Prometheus Bound" was written with an idea of reproducing the supposed effects of the enharmonic style of the Greeks.
Halevy's opera of "The Tempest," written for London, and produced in 1850, rivaled the success of "La Juive." Balfe led the orchestra, and its popularity caused the basso Lablache to write the following epigram:
The "Tempest" of Halevy Differs from other tempests. These rain hail, That rains gold.
The Academy of Fine Arts elected the composer secretary in 1854, and in the exercise of his duties, which involved considerable literary composition, Halevy showed the same elegance of style and good taste which marked his musical writings. He did not, however, neglect his own proper work, and a succession of operas, which were cordially received, proved how unimpaired and vigorous his intellectual faculties remained.
The composer's death occurred at Nice, whither he had gone on account of failing strength, March 17, 1862. His last moments were cheered by the attentions of his family and the consolations of philosophy and literature, which he dearly loved to discuss with his friends. His ruling passion displayed itself shortly before his end in characteristic fashion. Trying in vain to reach a book on the table, he said: "Can I do nothing now in time?" On the morning of his death, wishing to be turned on his bed, he said to his daughter, "Lay me down like a gamut," at each movement repeating with a soft smile, "Do, re, mi," etc., until the change was made. These were his last words.
The celebrated French critic Sainte-Beuve pays a charming tribute to Halevy, whom he knew and loved well:
"Halevy had a natural talent for writing, which he cultivated and perfected by study, by a taste for reading which he always gratified in the intervals of labor, in his study, in public conveyances—everywhere, in fine, when he had a minute to spare. He could isolate himself completely in the midst of the various noises of his family, or the conversation of the drawing-room if he had no part in it. He wrote music, poetry, and prose, and he read with imperturbable attention while people around him talked.
"He possessed the instinct of languages, was familiar with German, Italian, English, and Latin, knew something of Hebrew and Greek. He was conversant with etymology, and had a perfect passion for dictionaries. It was often difficult for him to find a word; for on opening the dictionary somewhere near the word for which he was looking, if his eye chanced to fall on some other, no matter what, he stopped to read that, then another and another, until he sometimes forgot the word he sought. It is singular that this estimable man, so fully occupied, should at times have nourished some secret sadness. Whatever the hidden wound might be, none, not even his most intimate friends, knew what it was. He never made any complaint. Halevy's nature was rich, open and communicative. He was well organized, accessible to the sweets of sociability and family joys. In fine, he had, as one may say, too many strings to his bow to be very unhappy for any length of time. To define him practically, I would say he was a bee that had not lodged himself completely in his hive, but was seeking to make honey elsewhere too."
MEHUL labored successfully in adapting the noble and severe style of Gluck to the changing requirements of the French stage. The turmoil and passions of the revolution had stirred men's souls to the very roots, and this influence was perpetuated and crystallized in the new forms given to French thought by Napoleon's wonderful career. Mehul's musical conceptions, which culminated in the opera of "Joseph," were characterized by a stir, a vigor, and largeness of dramatic movement, which came close to the familiar life of that remarkable period. His great rival Cherubini, on the other hand, though no less truly dramatic in fitting musical expression to thought and passion, was so austere and rigid in his ideals, so dominated by musical form and an accurate science which would concede nothing to popular prejudice and ignorance, that he won his laurels, not by force of the natural flow of popular sympathy, but by the sheer might of his genius. Cherubini's severe works made them models and foundation stones for his successors in French music; but Mehul familiarized his audiences with strains dignified yet popular, full of massive effects and brilliant combinations. The people felt the tramp of the Napoleonic armies in the vigor and movement of his measures.
Spontini embodied the same influences and characteristics in still larger degree, for his musical genius was organized on a more massive plan. Deficient in pure graceful melody alike with Mehul, he delighted in great masses of tone and vivid orchestral coloring. His music was full of the military fire of his age, and dealt for the most part with the peculiar tastes and passions engendered by a condition of chronic warfare. Therefore dramatic movement in his operas was always of the heroic order, and never touched the more subtile and complex elements of life. Spontini added to the majestic repose and ideality of the Gluck music-drama (to use a name now naturalized in art by Wagner) the keenest dramatic vigor. Though he had a strong command of effects by his power of delineation and delicacy of detail, his prevalent tastes led him to encumber his music too often with overpowering military effects, alike tonal and scenic. Riehl, a great German critic, says: "He is more successful in the delineation of masses and groups than in the portrayal of emotional scenes; his rendering of the national struggle between the Spaniards and Mexicans in 'Cortez' is, for example, admirable. He is likewise most successful in the management of large masses in the instrumentation. In this respect he was, like Napoleon, a great tactician." In "La Vestale" Spontini attained his chef-d'oeuvre. Schuelter in his "History of Music" gives it the following encomium: "His portrayal of character and truthful delineation of passionate emotion in this opera are masterly indeed. The subject of 'La Vestale' (which resembles that of 'Norma,' but how differently treated!) is tragic and sublime as well as intensely emotional. Julia, the heroine, a prey to guilty passion; the severe but kindly high priestess; Licinius, the adventurous lover, and his faithful friend Cinna; pious vestals, cruel priests, bold warriors, and haughty Romans, are represented with statuesque relief and finish. Both these works, 'La Vestale' (1802) and 'Cortez' (1809), ire among the finest that have been written for the stage; they are remarkable for naturalness and sublimeness, qualities lost sight of in the noisy instrumentation of his later works."
Halevy, trained under the influences of Cherubini, was largely inspired by that great master's musical purism and reverence for the higher laws of his art. Halevy's powerful sense of the dramatic always influenced his methods and sympathies. Not being a composer of creative imagination, however, the melodramatic element is more prominent than the purely tragic or comic. His music shows remarkable resources in the production of brilliant and captivating though always tasteful effects, which rather please the senses and the fancy than stir the heart and imagination. Here and there scattered through his works, notably so in "La Juive," are touches of emotion and grandeur; but Halevy must be characterized as a composer who is rather distinguished for the brilliancy, vigor, and completeness of his art than for the higher creative power, which belongs in such preeminent degree to men like Rossini and Weber, or even to Auber, Meyerbeer, and Gounod. It is nevertheless true that Halevy composed works which will retain a high rank in French art. "La Juive," "Guido," "La Reine de Chypre," and "Charles VI." are noble lyric dramas, full of beauties, though it is said they can never be seen to the best advantage off the French stage. Halevy's genius and taste in music bear much the same relation to the French stage as do those of Verdi to the Italian stage; though the former composer is conceded by critics to be a greater purist in musical form, if he rarely equals the Italian composer in the splendid bursts of musical passion with which the latter redeems so much that is meretricious and false, and the charming melody which Verdi shares with his countrymen.
BOIELDIEU AND AUBER.
The French school of light opera, founded by Givtry, reached its greatest perfection in the authors of "La Dame Blanche" and "Fra Diavolo," though to the former of these composers must be accorded the peculiar distinction of having given the most perfect example of this style of composition. Francois Adrien Boieldieu, the scion of a Norman family, was born at Rouen, December 16, 1775. He received his early musical training at the hands of Broche, a great musician and the cathedral organist, but a drunkard and brutal taskmaster. At the age of sixteen he had become a good pianist and knew something of composition. At all events his passionate love of the theatre prompted him to try his hand at an opera, which was actually performed at Rouen. The revolution which made such havoc with the clergy and their dependents ruined the Boieldieu family (the elder Boieldieu had been secretary of the archiepiscopal diocese), and young Francois, at the age of nineteen, was set adrift on the world, his heart full of hope and his ambition bent on Paris, whither he set his feet. Paris, however, proved a stern stepmother at the outset, as she always has been to the struggling and unsuccessful. He was obliged to tune pianos for his living, and was glad to sell his brilliant chansons, which afterward made a fortune for his publisher, for a few francs apiece.